Although the sciences are often referred to as if they are quite similar (for instance combined science is the most common award at GCSE) the skills required for each one especially at A level are quite different. Read more ...
It is in fact comparatively rare for a student who enjoys Biology to also enjoy Physics or vice versa. The reason for this is that Physics is a science, which tries to understand the world at the most fundamental level and from first principles. Biology on the other hand has traditionally been a top-down science where one tries to understand complex organisms or organs by describing them in greater and greater detail in order to understand their function. This is changing with the introduction of more molecular biology and genetics into the syllabuses but in many ways these disciplines are now too large to do them justice and they deserve A levels in their own right. Chemistry is somewhere between Biology and Physics in that it is also a fundamental science like physics which tries to understand chemical reactions from first principles. It is also, however, an important part of Biology since life at its most fundamental level is nothing more than a sequence of very tightly organised and controlled chemical reactions. Therefore, as already stated, biochemistry and molecular biology plays an increasingly important part in A level Biology. In fact in the two most competitive scientific degrees available (Human Medicine and Veterinary medicine), Chemistry is the only science definitively required on all courses (where one might consider Biology more important). This is because increasingly living things are being described and treated at the chemical level rather than the physiological.
Science GCSE is generally taken as either a double or triple award. Contrary to the perception of many the three sciences are separately taught and the exams consist in general of two papers in each discipline (double award) or three papers in each discipline (triple award). Read more ...Many students are put off continuing to A level because they have been put off by one of the science disciplines, either by the content or often, sadly, by the teaching. Often this means the student is reluctant to do a science A level. This need not be the case since the skills required for each science are quite different, a fact which is obscured by the overall term 'combined science'. One advantage of a private tutor is that they are able to help the student understand exactly where their strengths lie and help them understand what disciplines will suit them best at their A levels.
Many students who do well at GCSE science often find they struggle at A level because the syllabus especially in double science tends to be fact based whereas at A level a much more analytical approach is required (especially in Chemistry and Physics). On the other hand many students who have only got a B or C and GCSE science (perhaps because they do not enjoy remembering facts) find that one or more of the science A level subjects are actually much more stimulating and enjoyable than they had imagined. Again a private tutor with an understanding of all the sciences would be able to help a student to appreciate this.
It is a common misconception that to do an A level science you should have done triple science (which is actually pursued by a rather small minority of students). In fact after many years of being a private tutor I think the advantage of having taken triple science is only marginal. This is because the GCSE sciencestend to be fact based, which with a good memory can be easily assimilated. The A level sciences by comparison requires a much more analytical approach and a clear appreciation of the underlying principles.
The teaching of A levels changed in 2015 with the first exams sat in June of 2017. This was part of Government reforms aimed at making GCSEs and A levels more rigorous. In particular all A level exams had to be taken at the end of the two year course and not in the form of AS and A2 modules throughout the two years. Read more ... This was aimed at eliminating the tendency of students to cram for a module and then forget it. The new exams were also designed to be academically more challenging in principle enabling more discrimination between the top performing students. The other major change is in the practicals, which are now not awarded grades but are rather in the form of assessments through out the course which must be completed by the student in order to pass. This is an improvement since the setting and marking of the practical exams (which can only be marked in house) was open to abuse by schools. Time will tell whether the A level reforms have improved academic achievement. The first results were published in August of 2017.
The new A level exams involve three written papers (total of 6 hours) and a practical Assessment. The syllabuses OCR, Edexcel and AQA are quite similar consisting of a range of physical and inorganic chemistry modules in the first paper, Read more ...mainly Organic Chemistry modules in the second module anda final paper combining all these areas. These new exams place a good deal more emphasis on the practical aspects of chemistry. So students must now be able to describe how they would set up and tabulate their results in a particular experiment. It is helpful to studyA level Biology with A level Chemistry as a fair amount of the organic polymer work in Chemistry is studied from a functional perspective in Biology. A basic knowledge of GCSE maths is required. In particular students should be competent in rearranging algebraic equations. Show syllabus details
Again the modern syllabuses set three written exam papers. There is more variation between the syllabuses than is found in Chemistry, so it is hard to generalise. There is always a foundation Biology module which covers topics such as the structure of the cell and basic biochemistry. Read more ...The topics of photosynthesis and respiration are covered in all syllabuses. There is a good deal of emphasis in the other modules on transport systems in mammals and plants, the structure and function of the major mammalian organs (Heart, Kidney, Muscle and liver) is covered in most syllabuses. In addition. Ecology, Evolution, Genetics, Reproduction, Pathology and Immunology are covered to a greater or lesser extents by the different exam boards. Very little Maths is required but Chemistry A level is a great advantage in the study of basic biochemistry, photosynthesis and respiration. Show syllabus details
There are again three written papers and a practical assessment. The A level physics syllabuses are broadly similar covering typically Newtonian mechanics, electricity, waves & photons, materials and particle physics. Read more ...The details of the more advanced units vary between exam boards but cover Circular & Simple Harmonic Motion, Electromagnetism, Gravity & Cosmology, Capacitance, Nuclear physics and Thermal physics. It is essential that students are very comfortable with Maths GCSE especially algebra and trigonometry, very few A level Maths concepts are introduced in Physics A level except for logarithms. Approximately 40% of the A level syllabus involves relatively straight forward calculations but a large part is devoted to the derivation of equations and analysis of the underlying Physics principles. This requires a fair amount of writing with a clear and logical analysis. Students who are taking Maths A level tend to find themselves very at ease with the calculations but often find the derivations and written analysis much more difficult. It is essential to have both Physics and Maths A level if the student wishes to study Physics or engineering at University. Show syllabus details